The Houston County Board of Adjustment on July 25 approved a variance for Randy Krueger of Brownsville Township. The action will allow Krueger to build a 42 x 54 foot shed within 25 feet of his north and west property lines, where setback requirements are 50 feet.

Neighbor Sue Sheehan questioned Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan on why a former owner was not allowed to build a house on the property. He replied that the county's 40-acre density rule only applies to dwellings, so building a shed is allowable. The placement of the structure will not affect the building opportunities of any neighbors who might wish to build a home, Scanlan added.

Following the BOA meeting, the county's Planning Commission convened two hearings for new conditional use permits.

The first was for Chris and Denise Schaffer of Hokah Township to make a "substantial land alteration in a bluff impact zone."

Both applicants attended the hearing, explaining how runoff from a slope behind their buildings has become a problem. An extended discussion ensued over the proper way to address the situation, which includes not only storm water runoff issues, but erosion as well.

Finally, commissioners agreed on a set of conditions for the permit.

The CUP recommendation includes the following: All federal, state and local permits will be obtained and followed. Existing material will be required to stay on-site. The applicants will be required to work with the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District to develop and follow a detailed plan for the earthmoving project, which is to be completed by July 1, 2014.

The second hearing was for James Gray of Spring Grove Township, who sought an exhibition permit. Once each year, Ye Olde Opera House of Spring Grove holds a four-day musical event at the Gray property, commissioners were told. Typically, that happens in the third week in July.

The board recommended a CUP limited to one licensed theatrical/musical production per year at the Gray property. Both permits will go to county commissioners on Aug. 6 for approval.

The Planning Commission also recommended the renewal of two existing CUPs. The first was for Curt Roverud, and would extend permit #284 (a rock quarry west of Spring Grove) for an additional five years. The second was a yearly renewal for Thomas Welscher of Caledonia Township (CUP #233), allowing soil extraction near the site of the Houston County Airport. Scanlan said the latter permit would allow, but has not been used for the sale of topsoil, and was granted so that the landowner could remove soils in the event of an expansion of the airport. With no current plans to change either the length or alignment of the runway at the facility, the CUP will likely not be used, he added.

Commissioners briefly discussed recommending some changes to the Houston County zoning ordinance. Scanlan said the need to re-zone parcels as one-lot subdivisions is one of the most frequently-cited issues with landowners. That's because the county's current zoning only includes only one agriculture district, with a 40-acre rule on homebuilding density.

One-lot subdivisions aren't automatically granted, and are usually only allowed within two miles of a municipality. Two preliminary plats for one-lot subdivisions are due for review next month alone. "Those are two (landowners) who wouldn't have had to go through this whole process..." Scanlan noted. "It's a lot of hoops to jump through just to add that extra house within a two-mile radius."

By creating a different agriculture zone within a two-mile radius from towns, more housing might be allowed, Scanlan said.

The Planning Commission could study possible changes, put them into a draft form, and then hold a public hearing. Following that, the county board would eventually decide on any amendments.

"The two-mile limit sounds arbitrary, but right now there is a statute that allows towns to control the development within two miles (of city limits)," Commissioner Bruce Lee stated.

"We want to get away from spot zoning," Chairman Charlie Weiser said.

Commissioner Glen Kruse noted that cities need to get involved in the planning process when nearby subdivisions are laid out.

Scanlan stated that the county may want to initiate an interim use permit. Those would typically not remain in effect on a parcel once it is sold.

The board agreed by consensus to begin talks about amending the ordinance at their next meeting, on Aug. 29. County staff members were asked to contribute suggestions.

Nine already-issued zoning permits were approved. They included the installation of a manufactured home, four sheds, a pole barn, a grain bin, and a temporary asphalt plant, and a deck.